Y'all know the names.
But why now? And what would it mean for MLS?
The War in the West is coming, and if rumors are to be read as opening salvos, it's going to be glorious.
Both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Hernandez have expressed interest in coming to MLS: In January, Chicharito told reporters he preferred MLS to China, and league GMs seem to think he's on the way; as recently as November, Ibrahimovic suggested he could "do what Napoleon didn't" and conquer the United States.
MLS has reportedly expressed interest in both players: that expansion side LAFC is targeting Chicharito, while recent reports included a purported contract offer to Ibrahimovic from the LA Galaxy and followups about agent Mino Raiola visiting LA this week, with ears open.
With Ibrahimovic out of contract this summer after a season with Manchester United, and Chicharito's deal with Bayer Leverkusen up the year to follow – halfway through LAFC's looming inaugural, the potential exists for free transfers, helping to allay the dollar amount sure to surface a new level of Designated Player spending.
Analyst's Take: Chicharito
Not sure what I can add to the Chicharito discussion given all the ink that's been spilled. He'd immediately become the best goalscorer in the league, and the biggest "local" attraction – dude is beloved by his countrymen, and respected by anybody who loves the game.
He's also a much better two-way forward than is given credit for, so it's not like whichever team gets him would have to bend their gameplan a bunch. Just get him the ball in the box and let the man eat.
For the new guys, it's easy to go big and bold. Knowing they enter the league alongside a heralded MLS original franchise – the league's most successful to date, with 5 MLS Cups, 4 Supporters' Shields, 2 US Open Cups and a CONCACAF Champions Cup in the pear tree – LAFC's stated goal is to be the best team of the next 20 years.
They've taken in thousands of season-ticket deposits before signing a player. Or coach. Or finishing the stadium, which president and owner Tom Penn, along with EVP of Soccer Operations John Thorrington view as a crucial element in their "street-by-street, block-by-block" approach to connecting with supporters and sponsors in Los Angeles.
"I think the opportunity to create a club from scratch has resonated with everyone," Penn says in a phone conversation with MLSsoccer.com this week. "This chance to begin from the very beginning, on the ground floor. We engaged with our supporters immediately, back when we acquired the club in October 2014. They've had a voice in every decision that we've made.
"You know we're well over 14,000 season-ticket deposits. We're selling quickly through all of our premium inventory, which is unlike any in pro sports. It's phenomenal stuff."
And all that enthusiasm is ultimately going to hinge on an actual team, a roster of players they're currently collating from myriad sources, starting with USL affiliate Orange County Soccer Club (the erstwhile OC Blues) and on through a scouting operation that aims to compete from the first kick, much like Atlanta United or the 2009 Seattle Sounders.
"I think when we look at what we want out of our team, we want to represent our city," Thorrington says in an exclusive phone conversation. "That's a key piece of why we are starting to get such momentum and traction with the fanbase with us and here in L.A. As it pertains to DPs, there's no hiding from the fact that we are a city of stars. That's part of the L.A. story. But we are not interested in any signings that do not provide immediate on-field value."
Javier Hernandez would hit all the marks there – an established, in-his-prime star of El Tri who has achieved success at every stop in a top-flight career. His Mexican heritage could prove a crucial draw in a city that claims 48.5 percent Latino residents, and a league still expanding its American – and international – footprint.
As ESPN MLS analyst Sebastian Salazar puts it to me this week: "In terms of short-term market gain, if I'm LAFC, I just don't know that there is a player I'd bring in that would literally more perfectly launch my team in my market than Chicharito Hernandez. That's just off the field.
"But then you throw on the fact that he's proven to be able to score in any situation. And in this league we're still importing goals. I think it's a really obvious decision for LAFC, and I don't know that there's a price point that makes it bad business."
Analyst's Take: Zlatan
I don't think the "retirement league" narrative comes into play for Zlatan, who does not age the same way we mortals age. He is Zlatan. He is ageless. He is also still really freaking good and would obviously become the creative focal point for any team in MLS he's on going forward.
You'd have to protect him with some runners around him, but that's been a successful recipe in MLS in the past – remember how much defensive work the rest of the Red Bulls did for Thierry Henry?
For Galaxy president Chris Klein, a 14-year MLS veteran who played his final four seasons in LA, the Galaxy have been a flagbearer for the league, at the forefront of every element and iteration of club development, from on-field success to a soccer-specific stadium to marquee and DP signings on through the academy effort and Homegrown Players.
"We've always kind of led the charge, and so as our league enters into the next phase, we're adapting and changing as well," Klein tells MLSsoccer.com. "We will change, but we will lead the change in our league … Through it all, the Galaxy's always won. We take great pride in that, but we don't use that as something that we rest on. We're continually trying to evolve and get better."
They're confident in that brand, those established relationships, and the trophy collection. They've reoriented a recent round of DPs, handing the keys to Mexico national team midfielder Giovani dos Santos and in-his-prime French winger Romain Alessandrini, with defender Jelle Van Damme – 33, but coming off a monster MLS debut – a prime candidate for a Targeted Allocation Money buydown this summer … which reopens that third DP slot.
Klein acknowledges market impact on player considerations, that the Galaxy feel an obligation "to not only [sign] DPs, but do them a certain way and do them right." There does exist a greater focus on complementing the current roster, regardless of the players' career stage, given that the Galaxy are trying not only to win now, but next year and the one after that.
Ibrahimovic certainly fits the player profile, wielding the pitch prowess and star wattage necessary to further a Galaxy tradition that originated with David Beckham. He's racked up 15 goals and 4 assists in 22 English Premier League games, including a December 2016 Player of the Month award, and continues to capture the imagination of his peers.
Salazar points to a recent ESPN FC MLS Anonymous Player Survey, in which Ibra drew 22 percent of responses for "Which big-name DP would you like to come?" – ahead of Lionel Messi (20 percent) and Cristiano Ronaldo (17 percent).
"One of the quotes I read was that 'He would be on SportsCenter almost daily.' That type of impact, not just because of the obviously great feats that he can accomplish physically, but the personality is a massive one.
"But with Zlatan, we're on a really fine line, right?" Salazar says. "He's 35 years old, clearly in the 'retirement age' bracket, but performing at a level that suggests he's far from done. I don't know when that wall hits for him. If you get him this season, coming out of Manchester United on a free transfer and coming off a 30-goal year, all competitions, you have hacked away at the 'retirement age' image."
Either signing would likely prove a massive short-term boon for the league, one that would quickly compound with any amount of on-field success. Maybe MLS gets one. Maybe both.
Hopefully both. Because those LA Galaxy-LAFC games … they're going to be something as is. And if the stakes are starting out this high? 2018 can't come soon enough.